Daily Archives: January 21, 2010

Miracles, Mystery and Science

A kind fellow gave me a trackback and some respectful and insightful comments on my recent Shroud of Turin post.

Perusing his blog led me to this site, “The Definitive Shroud of Turin FAQ,” and a tangential thought.   The FAQ contains the following observation in its introduction:

Mystery is unavoidable. For instance the images are a mystery. And mystery can be seductive. If we are not careful, unanswered questions can lead to god-of-the-gaps thinking. All too easily some of us who are religious can be lulled into thinking that because something lacks an explanation it must be miraculous. Such thinking is bad science, bad theology and bad philosophy. Mystery can point us towards common sense. Mystery can challenge us to find answers. But it is never ever proof of anything.

This got me to thinking.  We often make a big deal about proving “science can’t explain it” when we talk of miracles.

Yet C. S. Lewis argues in Miracles that most miracles are really a “speeding up” of nature, not a violation of it.  God made the laws of Nature, and He doesn’t arbitrarily break His own rules.

For example, says Lewis: Jesus turns water into wine.  Water turns into wine all the time.  It just usually has to go through a process where it is ingested by grape vines, fills up the grapes on those vines, and then gets mashed out of the grapes. 

An example from Lewis’s own life, long after he wrote that book: Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis had bone cancer.  In addition to her cancer going into remission, an issue in her health was the strength of her bones themselves.  After an Anglican priest known for the gift of healing prayed over her, not only did her cancer go into remission, but her bones began to miraculously rebuild themselves. . . . . And around the same time, her husband developed osteoporosis.  “Jack” Lewis always felt that God was taking the calcium out of his bones and giving it to Joy.  In other words, it was a “Miracle” bcause God was doing it beyond the explanation of medical science, but God was essentially giving a supernatural transplant.

After Mother Angelica was healed of her need for braces, Franciscan University Presents did a panel discussion of healings and miracles, and the technical distinction.  Fr. Scanlon said that he had been to Lourdes and worked on the claims of miracles there.   There are thousands and thousands of authenticated cases of “Healings” from Lourdes–cases that do not quite reach the Church’s formal definition of “miracle” but do meet the average person’s.

I’ve said it before: the question is not whether the image on the Shroud (or on Juan Diego’s tilma, for that matter) can be explained by modern science . The question is whether the explanation would have been available to someone of the time period.  There are people who would rather think the Shroud is a medieval photography experiment than accept the idea of its authenticity.

Let’s say that it is proven, for example, that the image of the Shroud is basically an X-Ray.  OK.  Fine.  Now, how did someone in the 1400s, or the 900s, or the 500s, or the first century AD get an X-Ray machine???

It’s like the Creationism vs. Science nonsense: rather than focusing on poetic language about days, we should be looking at the similarities between Biblical creation and modern science, such as the order of creation of the animals.  The Bible says God said, “Let there be light,” and science tells us the universe began with an explosion.  They call it the “Big Bang,” but, of course, in space, no one can here you bang.  It should really be called the “Big Flash of Light”.

When Jesus said, “the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds,” He was obviously being metaphorical.  I’m pretty sure they must have known of even smaller seeds even in Jesus’ days.  Do you expect Him to have told his audience that some particular kind microscopic spore is the “smallest of seeds”? 

If someone came out tomorrow with a definitive scientific  explanation for how the image got on the shroud, the question would become whether a person of that time period had such technology, not whether we do.  The scientific explanation of the miracle, just as the scientific explanation of creation itself, only tells us *how* God did it, not whether or why.

It would be like God  taking a person who lived in 1890 with Marfan syndrome and healing his aneurysm, and then someone today looking back on the miracle and saying it was a hoax because today we know how to do aortic root replacement surgery.

UPDATE
Better yet–let’s say Cozaar is all it’s cracked up to be, or maybe doxycycline. Let’s say that, a generation ago, a documented Marfan was miraculously cured of a documented aneurysm, without surgery. A 5 cm aneurysm reduced to a stable 3 cm aorta.
The case was documented by the church for investigation of some shrine or alleged apparition or canonization. At the time, there was no medical explanation for the aneurysm reversing itself.

Now, let’s say that 10 years or so from now, they prove that Cozaar is as effective as the initial lab tests showed, maybe in conjunction with doxycycline or some other drug that comes down the line.

Skeptics pull out that old case and say, “Well, now we know there are drugs that can reverse an aneurysm.” OK, well, maybe the person happened to consume the right foods and/or dietary supplements to mimic whatever drug they develop.

Wouldn’t that still be an answer to prayer, that the person should be guided to ingest just the right combination of nutrients that no one else knew?

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